Kansas State Wildcats win 15th straight Sunflower Showdown, come back to beat Kansas Jayhawks 31-27

The Kansas State Wildcats continued their head-to-head dominance over the Kansas Jayhawks on Saturday night, overcoming an 11-point second-half deficit to knock off KU with a 31-27 win.

K-State got in front early with an explosive opening drive, taking a 7-0 lead before two minutes has passed in the first quarter. However, after an opening-drive punt, the KU offense woke up from there.

The Jayhawks scored touchdowns on each of their next four drives, extending from the first to the third quarter. That included three touchdowns for junior running back Devin Neal, the third time in his career he’s had three rushing scores in a single game.

While one Lawrence native starred for KU, though, another one for K-State made one of the game’s significant special teams plays. Senior Keenan Garber blocked and returned a Kansas extra point for two the other way in the second quarter. Miscues haunted Kansas throughout the second half, although many of the following mistakes were self-inflicted.

After the Jayhawks took a 27-16 advantage one drive into third quarter, the Wildcats found their offensive rhythm. Specifically, they started leaning into their running game.

Following KU’s final score, K-State would run for 138 yards between their next drive and their final kneel-down plays that ended the game, reaching the end zone twice in the process.

In the midst of K-State’s emergence, Kansas ran afoul of its own misdoing.

Kansas State’s penultimate touchdown drive was almost crushed before it began. Senior quarterback Will Howard threw a pass directly into the hands of KU senior linebacker Rich Miller deep in Wildcat territory, but he couldn’t hang on despite no one from the offense standing between him and the end zone. One play later, senior running back Treshaun Ward broke off a 52-yard carry to set up the eventual score.

KU’s defense got stops on each of the next two K-State drives, including an interception by junior cornerback Mello Dotson and a forced three-and-out early in the fourth quarter. That’s when disaster struck again for the Jayhawks.

The ensuing K-State punt was muffed by junior returner Trevor Wilson and recovered by the Wildcats at their own 45-yard line. Six plays and 55 yards later, Howard scampered into the end zone for the go-ahead score.

Kansas coach Lance Leipold said that there were a few plays Saturday night that he and the Jayhawks thought could have swung the result in the other direction.

“I thought we had opportunities, and we played so hard,” Leipold said. “Great crowd, great atmosphere, environment … Proud of our football team because I think the gap’s really close. ”

That being said, he added that you can’t boil a loss down that narrowly.

“It’s not on two or three or four players or anything like that, we win and lose as a team,” Leipold said.

Howard finished the game 13-of-24 passing for 165 yards and two passing touchdowns, plus the winning score on the ground. K-State’s top rusher was Junction City native D.J. Giddens, with the sophomore running back tallying 102 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries.

After the game, Howard was fired up about K-State’s continued head-to-head success against Kansas.

“There is no better feeling than beating little brother,” Howard said.

Freshman quarterback Cole Ballard got the start for Kansas in place of senior Jason Bean, who was cleared to play after suffering an injury last week against the Texas Tech Red Raiders. Ballard completed 11-of-16 passes for 162 yards with one touchdown and a pair of picks.

Leipold explained why Ballard got the nod over Bean.

“He was available, he was cleared to play, but just based on practice time and things like that we decided it would be best to go with Cole,” Leipold said. “He was available if something happened.”

Neal wound up with 18 carries for 138 yards and the three scores to lead all ball carriers. He had never racked up more than 62 yards in a game against Kansas State prior to this season.

With the win, the Wildcats are now 8-3 overall this season and 6-2 in Big 12 play, and they still have an outside shot at reaching the Big 12 Championship Game. K-State will end the regular season against the Iowa State Cyclones next Saturday. The Jayhawks, meanwhile, are now 7-4 overall with a 4-4 record in conference games. They’ll go for their first eight-win season since 2008 next weekend when they visit the Cincinnati Bearcats.

For more on the Kansas State Wildcats’ 31-27 win over the Kansas Jayhawks, check out 580 Sports Talk Monday from 2-6 on 580 WIBW.